Galileo couldn’t be more relaxed and scruffy.
“Look at the state of that and the price of bacon,” Clive would say.
The expression was new to me but I love it.
It’s similar to “What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”
As writers in a foreign country, we rely on each other to keep the English colloquialisms blooming.
I spent a long time last night taking my sprayer to pieces and cleaning all the little bits, but so as not to go the same way as yesterday, I phoned the family-run business where I bought it years ago.
As usual, they recognised my voice. (And advised me to use hot water to mix the ingredients, which worked.)
Is my speech that distinctive, though? Everyone always recognises my voice. I can never be anonymous even if I want to be.
There are few foreigners in this part of Italy, it’s true, and my accent starts peeping through after the first greeting or so. Also I have a slight lisp.
You’d perhaps expect people to know me by name – Damaris, or Signora West. But no-one can cope with either my first name (mangled variously as Daminus or Daramis if they even make the effort) or my surname because ‘w’ in Italian is virtually non-existent.
So who am I? I’m LA SIGNORA!! (The lady.)
(Add the epithet English, American, Dutch or German as the fancy takes you because people often mistake my nationality.)
Even Clive fairs better than me – probably because he’s less tolerant.
So ‘la signora’ phoned; ‘la signora’ will do it; give it to ‘la signora’.
People call out to me: “Signora!” Even people I’ve known for years have no other way of addressing me.
Ah well. The dogs think something to me. My smell, mainly …
This isn’t a post about Taylor, beautiful though he was, and is. It’s a post about the little white thing behind his head and the things that go in it, which form part of a typically complicated scenario in Italy.
To start with, Italy has a sort of admiring love-affair with German technology and a lot of appliances (whether or not they’re German) have rounded German plugs on them. These rounded plugs will ONLY fit into specially-shaped rounded sockets. So a lot of houses have these sockets fitted, as do we, but sparingly distributed because they’re more expensive. (The one in the photo is bog-standard Italian.) The alternative is an adaptor.
The standard Italian plug will fit into a German socket IF it’s one of two types – the skinnier, lower-amp one.
The two types of Italian plug and socket don’t combine with each other, except: it’s possible to have sockets which accept both types of plug. Otherwise it’s an adaptor again, making sure it goes from and to the right way round!
Nine months in France gave us plenty of experience with the French two-pin system. Multi-national adaptors were the answer, but some of them can’t cope with Italian plugs.
We still have a few English plugs and we connect these using power strips. I sometimes have great fun rummaging through cupboards for a power strip that takes Italian/German plugs and fits into the English socket of another power strip, or vice versa or any combination of the above!
The power point in the photo is crucial because it copes variously with Clive’s breathing machine, hoist, laptop, keyboard, speaker dock for his Ipod, HTC tablet … He’s suggested that we add a couple of sockets alongside the existing one, but we only have to use an adaptor in one of them and the other two will be blocked off, sending us back to square one!
Tired of making bread with Italian flour which is really for pizza or pasta and can make for disastrous loaves (unmixed, uncooked, unrisen), we bought a huge sack of rye flour from Britain.
It’s beautiful silky stuff with an attractive earthy smell, but our breadmaker doesn’t quite gel with it.
The resultant loaves are … interesting, and comical.
We found out that rye flour should be mixed 50/50 with wheat flour for it to behave properly, but to be honest I quite like our mangled offerings.
The photo shows how well and smoothly the bread cuts – that is, when there’s enough height to the loaf to bother.
It’s also dense and chewy, like certain kinds of cake.
The main benefit, though, is that my jaded bread-palate has woken up a bit.
This morning in the fruit and vegetable wholesalers in Foligno I heard voices speaking English.
English English, not even American English (no offence).
The voices were coming from a couple about my age, I suppose.
I was choosing carrots when the wife came quite near me. “Are you English?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Me, too,” I said, beaming at her.
That was the end of the conversation.
I think she might have smiled vaguely in an embarrassed sort of way, but she didn’t say anything beyond that first monosyllable.
So much for ex-pats!
Have you noticed how the Yanks dominate the expat forums? In the interest of getting and giving help on matters concerning expat life, my wife and I joined an expat forum for our country. It was a busy group with lots of questions and answers being posted daily. Unfortunately when we tried to get involved, we were basically cold-shouldered by the American contingent which had formed cliques with their own indecipherable code.
The only questions which were answered were those put by the US members who all seemed obsessed with finding the latest ‘cool’ places to meet up in. Most of the drivelly conversation consisted of partying and who was seen drunk with whom and there was a self-appointed arbiter of ‘good taste’ who would rubbish anyone whose views differed from hers.
In the end I butted into a conversation and was asked which state I was from. That finished me off. I pointed out that while the Great American Unwashed (and a lot of the ‘Washed’ too) might consider Britain to be a small island off of the coast of Uncle Sam Land where unwanted missiles could be conveniently be located to fend off perceived attacks from the Communist hordes, it was actually an independent monarchy. I wasn’t quite sure why we should be fearing an attack from behind the former Iron Curtain – perhaps these infidels wanted to get their red hands on the apple pie and turkey crops. I also said that I had a degree in advanced flag-burning. That got me drummed off the forum – something which I don’t regret.
What is it with them that they have to invade wherever they go?
Two anecdotes from when I was in my twenties that, perhaps, illustrate my comments.
The first was when I was in Germany. I’d just landed at Frankfurt airport and was desperately trying to find the tube train to the main railway station. Unfortunately there must have been a dozen different tube trains sitting in the underground terminus, none of them displaying where they were going and no platform signs either. An American woman asked me if I knew which train went to the main station – she was going there too. I said I had no idea but would ask a guard. She replied that she would get on ‘this one – it’s bound to be going my way’. Why should she think that the train would go where she wanted to go and ignore the other passengers who ‘must have got it wrong’. I later found out that she headed off in exactly the wrong direction.
The other thing that springs to mind is when I was going to do Voluntary Service in Africa. Our course leader was at great pains to tell us that there were three good ways of ending up in the proverbial missionary’s stewpot. One – get involved with a native lady (AIDS), two – tell the village elders that you don’t approve of women doing all the work and that they should get off of their collective rear ends and help out or, three, associate with members of the Peace Corps. The last of the three being the most dangerous.
I fully expect some xenophobic accusations from this but I stand behind it. My wife is half-American and she agrees with me.
Oh how I try to avoid these people (for the most part). They come out here with their heads full of ‘La Dolce Vita’ and behave like a load of American Peace Corps volunteers. They patronise the locals, are completely naive about the way of life and if anyone dares to say something is less than perfect (and Italy has plenty of things which are far from perfect), they self-righteously pronounce, “This is Italy” as if for some strange reason the fact had escaped me.
Here’s an example of how embarrassing they can be. Some time back we’d stopped at the local pizza restaurant in our village for – guess what – a pizza. We know (as in to speak to) the lady who runs it with her husband. They are very quiet-spoken and, once they get to know you will chat about ‘general matters’ with you. They are friendly but not effusively so. This is typical for our part of Umbria.
A group of middle-aged British ex-pats arrived. 50 years old with IQ’s in single figures. The women were done up to the nines (this is a pizza parlour and most people here wear jeans or some casual attire) and the men were in suits and having mock fights with each other. When they reached the counter, the manageress asked them what they wanted and they replied in spaghetti-English until it came to the drinks. She did the usual – Coke, Fanta or Beer. With that the men sprouted pogo sticks and bounced up and down shouting ‘Birra! Birra! Birra for me!!!!!’ The manageress looked even more embarrassed than we did.
She came over to us later and asked if we were from the same country. My wife said, “Io sono francese’ and I said, ‘Io sono tedesco’. No way were we going to admit to being British.
We’ve lived here for 5 years now and our experience is that Umbrians are generally very friendly but they are largely self-interested (who isn’t?) and they like to be able to wave, smile and exchange pleasantries with you but without having you in and out of their homes.
People coming out here are expected to believe it is all perfect and are criticised heavily for saying otherwise. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, Italy has a lot going for it and I am not sorry we came here. That does not mean that I have to act like the world’s sole surviving brain donor when confronted with Italian culture or customs nor do I have to think everything is wonderful – it isn’t!